How to Be Present w/ Dr. Dorote Weyers-Lucci

We’d all love to live in the moment, but it’s never as easy as we’d like. Happily, there are hacks! Join us today as Dr. Dorote Weyers-Lucci shares with us the power of immersive experience, the importance of ritual, and even some technical fixes to offer ourselves the ultimate present: the present!

Highlight Reel:

0:30 Transformation through immersive experience

4:50 The immersion tech-hack

9:30 Non-digital immersive experience

14:40 Ritual experience

20:10 Be in the present moment

24:10 Duality and Individuality

29:20 Survival-entrenched thinking

34:40 Cooperative Play

41:20 Whatever resonates

Adrienne MacIain 0:01

Hey everyone, welcome to the That's Aloud podcast. I'm your hostess, Dr. Adrienne MacIain, and today we have Dorote Weyers-Lucci. Welcome.

Dorote 0:11

Thank you. Thank you, Adrienne, for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Adrienne MacIain 0:14

It is lovely to have you here, I'm so pleased that you said yes to my invitation to come on the podcast. I think your work is just so exciting. So please tell the audience a little bit about the amazing work that you do.

Dorote 0:28

Well, um, I wouldn't even know where to start. But I guess I can start with what I'm doing right now. So my work alternates between different areas, which I enjoy all of them very much, and I think what is appealing to me is being able to work in all of them simultaneously. So one of them is research. I've been working with immersive experiences and how they support transformation. And that's digital and non digital immersive experiences. Then the other is teaching. So I'm a professor for transpersonal psychology and psychology at Sofia University. And the areas I teach in are, you know, wide. Right now, it's perception and cognition, which I love. So I'm very much interested in whole-person education, and multi-sensory education, and play, like who we were just talking about before, and the ability to integrate information through contemplative practices. So that's another thing I forgot to mention with the immersive experiences, I spend a lot of time working with contemplative practices and how to integrate contemplation so that people can really digest information in a holistic manner. And what does that mean? Well, like, you know, the whole body, not just the brain, so that they're able to interact with information and use it for discernment. So that is research, teaching, practitioner. So I'm a clinical hypnotherapist. But I use many variations. I'm a mindfulness coach. I love interpersonal neurobiology, neuroscience, whatever I can get my hands on, somatic integration, art expression, your aesthetics, the list is long. I have a special passion too for people who are fighting cancer. So I do support groups for cancer, and cancer patients, cancer survivors, metastatic, the works, and I also have a private practice for people. And that's using the same type of methodologies I was just talking about. And then, um, yeah, I've been working in the tech area, but that's really just because I noticed that people were having a really hard time finding a place of peace and tranquility when they first start meditating. And I was concerned about that, because I was working primarily with anxiety and depression. And I noticed that people would come and then come back every time with sort of the same issues, slightly differently, and they'd get a little better, but sometimes it would get really difficult for them to do these things independently. Sit and meditate independently. So, you know, how can we hack this? And how can we make it easier for people when they sit down on a pillow, when they're meeting themselves, essentially, to not run away and go, Well, you know, that was great, but, you know, meditation's not for me. Or, what a bunch of garbage because, you know, I came out more nervous than I went in.

Adrienne MacIain 4:50


Dorote 4:52

And so then I started looking at technology. What's different? You know, tools are available there, methodologies to work with it. And integrating some neuroscience and movements and play with my first project that was a way back, long way back, I think it was 2013 , not that way back, but seems like way back, with a project called Worry Bubble, where you would have these bubbles come out with an app on the Apple Store. You'd have these bubbles come out, and you would put your worries in, and then you would pop them. And put more words in and pop them, and pop them, and pop them. And just alone, that movement, and the eye-hand coordination, and the thought you were releasing every time. And then there was a little meditation with that. So that was a simpler thing. And then I was like, but this problem of meeting yourself in meditation alone was still remaining. So what to do about that? So then I found virtual reality to be the appropriate solution. I mean, like, what could be better? Totally immersive. What if you played with it in a way that would bring people down. And you know, just lean more into their own silence that is there for them to access by presenting it to them on the outside. And so it's a very simple app. I created StarFlight VR, which had a sound of a heartbeat at rest, but then had stars, and you're flying through the stars, and there was some color therapy. Or there is some color therapy, it's still available. And so this movement then starts, of course, entrancing people, but enables them to let go of the thoughts. Because notice, especially with people who haven't used VR a lot, the VR cuts the thought. I think when you, once you've been in virtual reality beyond a certain amount of time, it doesn't do that so much anymore. But at the beginning it definitely does. So then I started using that for research. I went on and created another app, Flow For Breath VR, which was more about attuning to breathing, and different types of breathing, and what if we added visuals to it, and you could sort of decide on your own rhythm. And now I've been experimenting with, you know, what other tools can we put out there that are easy for people to to use, because virtual reality, although I think it is the most effective one, is also a bit more difficult, because you have to buy the headset. And it turns out that at the beginning, when I first came up with this, it was the phone, and the headset, and the whole gear. People were getting so nervous putting that all together, that they were more nervous, you know. And then the technology got better, so they could just strap on a headset, but then they had to buy the headset, and that was more expensive. So anyways, it's been a conversation with the technology, with the hardware, with the software, with the ability to people to interact with it. But I did some more research, and there got very transpersonal, and found that people were having experiences of meta-awareness with the virtual reality. And that was specifically about death awareness. I've been working with death awareness. So that's another one of my favorite areas. So that death and life are so similar.

Adrienne MacIain 9:23

Absolutely. And I'm very interested in this idea of immersive experiences, you say digital and non-digital. So a digital immersive experience, as you described, would be you have got the, you know, the headset on. What is a non-digital immersive experience.

Dorote 9:41

Okay, so there's a project that Dr. Marilyn Schlitz at Sofia University and I have been working on for a little while now about grief. And what is great about that one, and I have to say, Dr. Schlitz is a PI for this. And what we set up was a room called a psychomanteum. And there was a tradition at Sofia University, which was the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology for of psychomanteum. So like, what is a psychomanteum? It's basically a room, a dark room that you go into, and it's totally dark. And then you sit down, and you have a candle behind you and a mirror in front of you. And then you have a meditation period of about 35 minutes where you sit in this room, and basically the only thing that you can see is, you don't see your own reflection, you just see the candle, the reflection of the candle. And we asked people to think about somebody that had, that they missed, that had passed away for them, where they felt like things weren't resolved, like there was something left. Where there was this active grief that kind of sits in, can be very difficult for people to work through. And so people would come in, and sit in this chamber, and then stare in the mirror. And there was inductions beforehand, and, for research purposes, they fill out questionnaires before and after, and then there's also an interview. So, but this Psychomanteum was proved to be really effective. Right? But you can't always have this perfect setup, because the perfect setup is that it's really dark. So there's another psychologist who does this called Dr. Moody, he's on the East Coast, and he's been practicing this for a long time. And he uses that for grief. And he has a very elaborate routine or setup to get people to relax. Like, he goes on a walk with them beforehand, and they talk about the person, and then he shows them into the room. And so that's an immersive experience that is non-digital, totally non-digital. And I would say that, there is a lot of them. So if you would go into the forest, like forest bathing, like this concept of going into the forest and sitting there, and just letting the trees around you be your immersive experience. If you target it that way, that can be something that is very powerful. And so I would count anything like that as an immersive experience. But I mean, we could really start going crazy with us in the sense that, you know, like, what is reality? Right? So we're using virtual reality to create a certain scenario because it's easier to use that so people are fully immersed. Sometimes it's easier. Sometimes it's not. l mean, by the time you've finished creating a forest in virtual reality, you might as well go and sit in a real one.

Adrienne MacIain 13:44

Yeah, if you can.

Dorote 13:44

Not everybody can. So for me, through the stars is a little bit more... well, we don't get to do that. So you know, let's go out on the lemon and play a little bit, and this idea. So we also made a comparison group for the psychomanteum that is in virtual reality. So in other words, you sit down, and you have the experience of walking into a room, and then you have the same thing, but it's a little bit more. There's a little bit more out-of-body experience, and floating above, and into the mirror, and back out just because you can. But then what is reality, right? Reality is really what we perceive. So whatever is immersive. I mean, I could say that, you know, just sitting here with you right now is an immersive experience.

Adrienne MacIain 14:41

Sure. So I'm very interested in ritual, as a theater nerd. I think this is, you know, a big topic for me is ritual and how we can use these external rituals and productions/performances to act out things that are going on inside or that we want to go on inside. So where do you see the crossover between these immersive experiences and rituals?

Dorote 15:12

Everywhere. Well, for one, what's interesting about a ritual is that it holds you. So it depends if we have rituals that we expect, like daily rituals, you know, like a cup of tea or a cup of coffee in the morning, or whatever different people do to get started in their day. That's a ritual, right? So that gives people a sense of safety and a sense of place. Beyond, obviously, their boosts of caffeine, you know, that's nice in the morning to maybe get going. So there's a sense of holding, and in terms of immersive, I would say that ritual can strengthen the sense of place and holding in wherever we are. And there's so many different types of rituals. And sometimes maybe we don't even see them as such, we take it for granted. Like, people don't really think about, necessarily, about their cup of coffee in the morning as being a ritual. Or reading a story before putting your kids to bed at night. That's so simple, right, but it's such a ritual. And that can enable the kids for example, to really dive into their story when the story becomes immersive again. So it deepens that connection between I think, broadly, the parents and the kids, but also the kids to the story. And later on, maybe they're reading their own stories at night, or listening to their own, so that's a ritual that continues, and it deepens the experience in that way. And then we have more rituals, of what we think of as rituals, like change of the seasons, or Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or New Year's. And every culture will have a different way to recognize transformation and change, whether it's through the calendar year. And again, it's, I think that, yeah, that deepens an immersive effect. And, like, why would we care? I mean, I could that could be your next question. I would say, like, Why would we even care if it's immersive or not? Like, you know, what's to it? Right? Well, I think it deepens our appreciation for life. And it lets us taste the moments, and from a mindfulness perspective, that's where it's at, right? You want to be in the present moment. So it calls you into the present moment, it invites you in, and maybe you get to notice things that you forgot. But because you're so used to doing this, you can really go into it. You know, there's also this thing, this researcher called Porges, he has a Polyvagal theory. So it's about the vagal nerve that runs along and it's really responsible for switching the sympathetic into the parasympathetic. What does that mean? Like basically, when you're in a stress state, how to switch over to a non-stress state. And this relaxation that comes with it can really be brought about through ritual. So in a lot of the world religions, you have these actions of standing up, sitting down, or praying. I mean, I grew up Catholic, so we had to like stand up, sit down kneel, stand up, sit down, kneel in church the whole entire time. And, you know, turns out that that's great for getting your system into a parasympathetic mode. And so for the Muslims, you know, it is the praying towards Mecca. And I mean, we could go on and on and on, right. And so that's also ritual, and that's also immersive, and that also brings you back into into your body, it brings you back into I want to say this reality. Maybe people would fight me about that because they'd say, like, It's not this reality. Kind of like you're doing something else, like you're not interacting, but it's deepening your sense of reality in the present moment, and therefore you can be more attentive to what is. That was a long answer.

Adrienne MacIain 20:10

That's a great answer. It's just so funny. I'm looking at the time and realizing I haven't even asked my first question yet. It's great! This is great, I love it. So the question that I usually start with, and we'll just throw it in here and see what happens, is what story is the world not getting?

Dorote 20:37

Maybe that it's so simple. But we try to find all these really complicated answers.

Adrienne MacIain 20:47

Boy, do we.

Dorote 20:49

And yet it's so simple. It's really about being in the present moment and paying attention. And then we can't BE any more, if we're so engrossed in so many complicated things. I mean, nothing against, you know, I mean, I love, like I said, I love research. So obviously, you know, there's a part of me that totally enjoys complications, too. But, for the essential things like quality of life, like really living your life to the fullest. I think that we're not getting the fact that it's so simple.

Adrienne MacIain 21:36

Do you think there's a difference between complexity and complication?

Dorote 21:42

For sure, for sure. And I think, and I'm not saying that there is no complexity, because in that simplicity, there's all the complexity. So that's the catch. There's a catch, there's a catch. But the complications actually lead us away from understanding that complexity through the simplicity. So then we're running amok somewhere. Yeah.

Adrienne MacIain 22:18

Absolutely. So where does where does the story of discovering this begin for you?

Dorote 22:28

The simplicity.

Adrienne MacIain 22:30

Yeah. Recognizing that the the answer is "Be in the present moment. Be here. Now."

Dorote 22:36

That's, that's so interesting, because a lot of the, you know, I'd say I was really busy making it complicated for a while.

Adrienne MacIain 22:46

Aren't we all?

Dorote 22:48

Whoa. I think the truth is that somewhere along the line, whenever I've been in nature, I've always felt very connected to simplicity. And I think that going back to nature, or my time spent in nature has kept me sane throughout, you know, any crises and horrible things that have happened in my life. You know, things that I've had to surmount. And if I wouldn't have had that... whew, I don't know. So maybe I would have gotten totally lost in the complications? But this way, you know, I, I've always taken the breathing time. But I think that that's when it was really clear to me is the ocean sound. Yeah.

Adrienne MacIain 24:12

So you just reminded me of a story that I haven't thought about in years. But do you mind if I take a moment to share this?

Dorote 24:20

No, go ahead.

Adrienne MacIain 24:22

So it's so funny, because before we pushed record, we were actually discussing that we had both lived in Geneva, Switzerland. Now, when I was living there, I had this pretty traumatic experience where I was at the parcours. You know, there's the little place where there's all these little exercise stations and you go around, you do exercises, and you run around the park. And I was there very early in the morning, as was my wont. And this man kind of came out of nowhere. I mean, he'd been following me, I could sort of see in, you know, in my peripheral vision, that he'd been kind of following me around. But then he suddenly jumped out and grabbed me by the crotch. And I was holding this little log, you know, I was doing squats. And so I just hit him with it.

Dorote 25:06


Adrienne MacIain 25:07

And took off running. And I ended up running all the way down to the water. And you know, there's that place where the two rivers meet, the Rhone and the Arve. And they're very different colors. And you can kind of see like, one's very sort of turquoisey and one's kind of, you know, milky. And there was something about seeing the two of them come together, but keep their integrity intact. That they were coming together, but the two colors weren't completely meshing. And something about that just really struck me in that moment, that like, I need better boundaries! I need to have my own sense of integrity, and my sense of safety, and that I really didn't. And that I was just very wide open to, you know, the world and to everything. And that was a big shift, actually, in my mind. And it was because of that, you know, the, I guess, that immersive experience, like you said, that I was able to get that in a way that I never had before. And I never put that together until just now.

Dorote 26:15

No. That's marvelous, I love it. That's pretty profound. I mean, I think you're like diving into dual and non-dual. Right. So your experience was of that